Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How does digital video consumption contribute to the  global carbon footprint?

By Philippe Wetzel, CEO and founder of VITEC

As video traffic flowing over public internet and corporate IT networks explode at exponential rates, the technology community is coming to grips with the environmental implications of this resource-intensive category of traffic.

The internet contributes more than 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Within that, video represents over 80% of the traffic that flows through this global network which is growing rapidly at about 25% per year. A similar dynamic is taking place over enterprise networks, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. A tremendous amount of video traffic is being managed by IT departments. This is why tracking the impact of digital video consumption across the business ecosystem is becoming increasingly important. 

Meanwhile, the number of screens consumers use — at home and work — is also multiplying at an astonishing rate. With all these devices, there is an increase in video and encoders to handle the exploding demand for video content, driven by the growth of video-heavy social applications — TikTok and WhatsApp, to name but a few. These factors drive high demand for encoders and decoders. It is in this context that it is important to focus on the details of video technology.

Encoders, for instance, consume significantly more energy than decoders – sometimes as much as 5 to 10 times as much energy, in comparison. In the past, there was an asynchronous relationship between these two categories of technology. Most video content was created — and encoded — by a much smaller percentage of the population compared to those who consumed – and therefore decoded video. Today, the gap between these two groups has narrowed significantly.

User-generated video content for professional and personal purposes has skyrocketed. As a result, we not only have more traffic flowing through public and private networks, but we also have much more original content generation taking place. This is significantly elevating the carbon footprint of the video sector. 

As a result, industry executives are re-evaluating how to balance sustainability with the ever-growing corporate and consumer demand for video content. This is why we — together as a video streaming community — must take responsible steps to initiate an effort to reduce the carbon footprint on the entire value chain of this industry.

An industry-wide effort is required 

Carbon footprint assessment must encompass all direct and indirect emissions within the value chain. This should include everything from the extraction of raw materials, design, manufacturing, transportation, and even the final recycling of the devices. 

All key players will need to actively participate in reducing energy consumption across their stage of the ecosystem. Optimising the energy consumption of each key player — and their products — can positively impact the planet. It can also be a good business practice, if done correctly, because it reduces costs for the key players in the long run. This makes it a win-win for everyone involved.

In today’s market — across a growing number of geographic regions — environmentally optimised products and services are also more competitive. They reduce the raw material needed for production and consume less electricity upon deployment.

At VITEC, we have taken a leadership position in introducing a well-developed methodology, named GreenPEG, to move forward in a sustainable, measurable, and accountable manner. This involves the implementation of a comprehensive strategy made up of five specific Initiatives: modern facilities including things like photovoltaic panels and high performance heat pumps; streamlined logistics meaning fewer trucks travel fewer miles; energy efficient design principles for software and hardware; product recycling wherever possible; and real-time energy monitoring and controls.

These steps enhance VITEC’s ability to minimise its carbon footprint. The rest have been offset by financing United Nations-approved projects.

More, however, needs to be done. It is not enough for a single company to engage in sustainability initiatives. An industry-wide effort is required. That is why VITEC is enlisting our key stakeholders, partner organisations, and even competitors to join us in creating sustainability initiatives across the entire ecosystem. The next step is to help guide the next video compression standard to ensure it is more eco-friendly and fast-enabled. To do so, VITEC has assembled a consortium of industrial and academic partners. We want to extend an open invitation to any other organisation willing to join us.